We had amazing success partnering with the Left Wing Futbol Club to Cosponsor the #AbloishICE World Cup viewing party. Starr Bar in Bushwick was packed with hundreds of people having a great time watching the game, and OFS led the crowd in radical Anti-ICE chants!
We also raised thousands of dollars for The New Sanctuary Movement’s work to support immigrants and #AbolishICE for more see: https://twitter.com/NewSanctuaryNYC.
The Organization for a Free Society (OFS) supports the International Women’s Strike (U.S.) and its call to strike on March 8th, 2018. To strike is to exercise our collective power, a power that the oppressor tries to contain and suppress. Women strike on this day against decades of sexual abuse and misconduct, against racist bosses and corporations, against underpaid and unpaid labor. A majority of the victims of these assaults are women of color, immigrant women, working class women and trans/queer women. We strike in solidarity with women all over the world who have been denied access to resources that ensure their survival: healthcare, clean water, safe living conditions, food, education, and child care.
Women have been and are an integral part of the movement against imperialism, which is built upon the structural foundations of heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, capital, and the state. Therefore, the liberation of women can only be realized through a revolutionary transformation of society, constructing a communism from below. From the Zapatistas in Mexico to the YPJ in Kurdistan, the rights we have now did not come to us with ease but were fought one step at a time. It is our duty, as part of a global left, to ensure everyone has a seat at the table and their voices are heard. Historically, the left has excluded certain voices making it necessary for new movements to arise that are based on the autonomy or independence of the excluded.
Through organizing in grassroots struggles across the nation, our comrades are working to dismantle the male-centered systems of exploitation. We stand in solidarity with IWS-US to put an end to white supremacy and all oppressive systems in the United States and globally. We will stand with our comrades, hand in hand, with our voices loud, to dismantle this misogynist state. The International Women’s Strike will be one action of many to bring us closer toward collective liberation.
On Thursday August 3rd, 2017 from 8-11pm Organization for a Free Society (OFS) and The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) invite you to a film screening of “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” as benefit for Cooperation Jackson in Jackson MS
Enjoy a BK backyard movie night with friends and comrades, and see how you can get involved in the resistance to Trump, and support participatory socialist movements and visionary projects like Cooperation Jackson.
This event features drinks, snacks, and a screening of the 2015 award winning film that the NY times calls an “EXCELLENT…electrifying film” “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” as well as introductions and discussion about next steps coordinated by OFS and MXGM. Good people, good drinks, and good politics = a good time!
The event is free, but a hat will be passed asking for donations. All proceeds will go directly to Cooperation Jackson. www.cooperationjackson.org
Aug. 3rd 8-11pm
352 Marcus Garvey Blvd
Brooklyn, Ny 11221
For more info:
The Invite on Fedbook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1813265579003646/
The Film “Black Panthers: Vanguard Of the Revolution”: http://theblackpanthers.com/home/
MXGM is an organization of New Afrikans whose mission is to defend the human rights of our people and promote self-determination in our community.
The Organization for a Free Society (OFS) fights for the self-emancipation of humanity from all forms of oppression. We work to build a united front of grassroots social movements, alternative institutions, and popular defense forces to lead a global social revolution from below, uniting and winning the general support of the multitude of oppressed people.
May 1st is International Workers’ Day. It is not a day to commemorate bloody wars for empire. It is not a day for shopping. May Day is a day for the vast majority of us who must labor for the profit of a tiny minority. May Day is a day without borders, where workers of all countries unite in celebration and struggle, recognizing the capitalist bosses and their state as our common enemy, and socialism as our common goal. May Day is a day to reconnect with a more sustainable form of existence, for workers to share in the abundant harvest that is the product of our collective social labor.
May Day is widely celebrated throughout the world with protests, boycotts, sabotage, and strikes against a system of exploitation: it is a day without work. May Day is not recognized as a holiday by the rulers of the USA, though it originates in our country. However, despite this lack of “official” recognition, working people have always celebrated May Day. Before the capitalists kicked the peasantry off the land and privatized every aspect of our lives, May Day was a day to celebrate the fertility and abundance of the earth with communal singing, dancing, loving, eating, and drinking. After capitalism began to spread its reach throughout the world, May Day became a day of working class resistance: on May 4, 1886, immigrant workers in Chicago went on strike for the eight-hour day, better working conditions, and higher pay. In response, the government arrested and executed 7 working class activists – the Haymarket Martyrs – in 1887. Since then, anti-capitalist workers have chosen the 1st of May to commemorate and continue their struggle for liberation. On May Day 2006, when millions of immigrant workers went on strike against workplace injustice and racist immigration policies in the USA, we were once again reminded of the real spirit of May Day.
May Day 2017 is a day of struggle against Trump, fascism, and imperialism, and a day of celebration to affirm the value of life against the killers of the earth. We mobilize on May Day against white supremacy and in defense of Black Lives, Muslims, immigrants, and all indigenous people and people of color. We mobilize on May Day against mass incarceration and in defense of prison abolition. We mobilize on May Day against heteropatriarchy and in defense of queer and trans lives and reproductive freedom. We mobilize on May Day against the capitalist exploitation of the working class, against slavery and unpaid labor, and against the destruction of our environment. We mobilize on May Day because another world is possible.
Hooray! Hooray! The First of May!
The Fight for Freedom Continues Today!
– Organization for a Free Society (OFS), Richmond, VA Branch
Trump wants to seem all-powerful, but big business has a lot of leverage over his administration.
No doubt, the Trump administration will harm billions of people and the planet. But it won’t be all-powerful. Donald Trump presents himself as a “hard-driving, vicious cutthroat” leader, unfettered by “special interests,” but he will have to confront the same constraints that all politicians in capitalist societies face.
The need to maintain the flow of investments and to minimize economic disruption will force the administration to reconsider implementing parts of its extremist agenda. Understanding these contradictions, and how mass movements can intensify them, is key to building an effective resistance movement.
Banks and corporations will impose some constraints by shifting their investments. Non-corporate bodies, like the military and intelligence agencies, will impose others. These elite institutions will counter policies that either directly threaten their interests or that catalyze mass movements that can disrupt those interests.
Indeed, even before the election, we saw how business and state institutions would try to control Trump. Both congressional Republicans and corporate lobbying groups like the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce rejected the president’s promise to enact tariffs on outsourcing companies. His hostility to the Iran deal put him at odds with the military, as well as aerospace and oil companies anxious to do business in Iran.
When Trump’s policies do not spark automatic elite resistance, mass movements can compel corporations to oppose extremist measures by making their implementation too expensive or difficult. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters have proven that disruptive movements can force major institutions like DNB Bank and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw or temper their support for projects initially favored by capital.
The policy outcomes remain unclear at this point, but understanding the potential sources of elite opposition to Trump can help social movements develop effective strategies.
Promises and Constraints
Donald Trump’s campaign promises included a slew of reactionary proposals — resuming the CIA’s torture program, banning Muslims, giving free rein to polluters — alongside a few vague progressive ideas — bringing down drug prices, protecting Medicare and Social Security, renegotiating trade deals, taxing Wall Street, and scaling back foreign military interventions. Evidence so far suggests that he meant the former promises and lied about the latter.
In any case, Trump’s actual intentions matter less than the degree to which elite institutions — particularly in the business world — support or reject his proposals. For example, we can expect proactive (and successful) opposition to any attempt to impose stiff tariffs or tax Wall Street. On the other hand, corporate America has rallied around his plans to further deregulate business and drastically lower corporate taxes, while remaining agnostic about the power he has already granted to the military, police, and immigration agencies. What we need to understand is how these reactions to Trump initiatives can be translated into institutional constraints.
Corporations’ political power comes from their control over economic investment, a power that often becomes visible in the form of factory closures, layoffs, capital flight, price hikes, and banks’ refusal to lend. These actions become a “capital strike” when businesses promise to relent in exchange for favorable changes in government policy. All politicians, irrespective of campaign promises or party affiliations, are subject to this pressure. Despite his erratic temperament, megalomania, and relative independence from corporate money, Trump will have to negotiate with these forces.
We can expect that the corporate world will use the threat of capital strike in two situations: First, when the Trump administration’s plans directly infringe on their profits or power, and, second, when these plans generate sufficient mass resistance to threaten profits or power. Non-corporate institutions in charge of implementation will respond similarly.
We’ve already seen examples of the first scenario. Boeing’s warning to Trump not to scrap the Iran deal included a veiled allusion to a strike: the company reminded him that selling eighty planes to Iran will “support tens of thousands of US jobs” and “ensure America continues to lead in global aerospace and to create jobs and opportunities in communities across the nation.”
For the same reasons, Trump’s threat to erect new tariffs will likely never materialize. Virtually all of the products sold in Trump hotels and resorts are manufactured in the low-wage Global South, so these tariffs would affect his (and his family’s) businesses. But even if the Trump brand willingly absorbed reduced profits, the projected impact on the corporate world at large would generate intense resistance. Most products supposedly “Made in the USA” use foreign raw materials and assembly lines, and even 15 percent of American exports are sourced with foreign inputs. Other countries’ retaliatory tariffs would shrink the overseas markets on which domestic industries rely, eliciting further opposition.
Even before the election, business vocally opposed these promised tariffs, with threats of capital strikes and, sometimes, disinvestment announcements. The business press quoted lenders and developers who said that “uncertainty” about new tax policy was “contributing to delays in getting projects off the ground.” Not surprisingly, Republican congressional leaders — ever-faithful mouthpieces for the corporate elite — echoed and amplified these complaints and threats, even though it meant risking their new leader’s wrath.
It’s unlikely, however, that we’ll see a full-fledged showdown between business and Trump over this issue. In fact, his advisers’ backgrounds suggest that his economic policy will align with corporate forces that favor “free” trade policies. His team includes current or former executives and representatives from General Motors, JPMorgan, IBM, Boeing, and Walmart, and he’s brought on at least six alumni of Goldman Sachs — the most powerful of the Wall Street banks that Trump repeatedly declared had been getting “away with murder.”
General Electric CEO Jack Welch is also advising the president; he once praised outsourcing as a way to undercut labor and regulatory standards, saying “Ideally, you’d have every plant you own on a barge.”
And while Trump has apparently nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson of Exxon, called it “one of the most promising developments” for advancing American corporate interests. Business’s structural power, as well its direct voice within the administration, all but ensures that no major new tariffs will be enacted and that outsourcing will proceed apace.
For the same reasons, immigration policy will stay largely the same. Despite his nativist rhetoric, Trump and other big capitalists benefit from the current system, which relies on millions of low-wage immigrant workers who live in constant fear of deportation. Indeed, entire industries — including Trump’s resort empire and other ventures— depend on stealing wages from immigrants, so any fundamental change to the status quo will spark intense backlash. Trump’s advisers include representatives from these immigrant-dependent industries, like Veronica Birkenstock, president of Practical Employee Solutions, which specializes in providing low-wage immigrant workers to American employers.
This does not imply any reduction in deportations or oppression of immigrants — just the contrary. Obama’s immigration policy managed to keep up the flow of low-wage labor for American capitalists while also deporting three million immigrants and admitting only a trickle of refugees from countries devastated by American bombs.
Using the same enforcement apparatus, Trump may well increase the rate of deportation. Immigration courts’ limited capacity may or may not constrain him, since he has issued orders for “expedited removal,” which denies its targets due process rights. But as long as deportations remain within certain limits, they will not threaten the supply of exploitable labor for American businesses. Nor would business interests necessarily oppose expanding immigrant incarceration, a major subsidy to the for-profit prison industry, or rising rates of hate crimes against immigrant and minority communities.
What About Obamacare?
Since 2010, the Republican Party has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Trump adopted “repeal and replace” as a campaign slogan. But any major modifications will have to win approval from the same industry interests whose consent Obama and congressional Democrats won before passing the bill in the first place.
The ACA has three inseparable pillars: insurers must accept patients with preexisting conditions, everyone must purchase insurance, and government subsidies will help low-income Americans afford their premiums. Insurers and providers only accepted the first pillar in return for the second and third — indirect subsidies to industry — and will not allow changes in this basic model without appropriate compensation.
The industry has already threatened market disruption, warning that providers will close medical facilities, that pharmaceutical companies will discontinue product development or raise drug prices, and that insurers will jack up premiums even faster or withdraw from the marketplace altogether (as some have already done). Insurance industry spokesperson Marilyn Tavenner warns that eliminating the ACA’s subsidies would force insurance companies to completely disinvest at “the next logical opportunity.”
Consequently, the New York Times reported that many Republicans have privately “voiced concern that their efforts to undo the law could have harmful consequences, such as inadvertently destabilizing insurance markets — a concern shared by Democrats and insurers.”
These specific threats will severely constrain both congressional Republicans and the Trump administration and will require years of negotiation to work out. For instance, the Republicans want to eliminate subsidies to repeal the taxes on the wealthy that pay for them and also claim to oppose the individual mandate. But the insurers have threatened to go on strike unless both provisions are maintained.
A potential compromise might end the subsidies and/or the mandate but free insurers to reject patients with preexisting conditions, essentially unraveling the entire framework. This sort of multidimensional bargaining takes months, maybe years, and has already become entangled with parallel negotiations around Medicaid and the Republican effort to privatize Medicare.
Although we cannot know the ultimate result, certain predictions seem safe. The final deal will be at least as congenial to the health-care industry’s demands as the original bill. Coverage and costs will further diverge from what the public needs and what it can pay. Indeed, short-term changes seem to be moving in this direction, as congressional Republicans first take aim at “regulations affecting insurer health plans and businesses.”
One further prediction: Trump’s inevitable boast that the outcome is “terrific” will require a new crop of “alternative facts.” His headline-grabbing order “to dismantle the Affordable Care Act” turned out to be “mostly a symbolic gesture.” The order merely instructed officials to take the ACA apart “to the maximum extent permitted by law” — a fancy way of admitting that they will be able to change very little. Major changes will require long, complex negotiations between the government and the relevant industries, and his opening salvo suggests that Trump will try to conceal the delays with dramatic gestures.
Carrier’s Capital Strike
The November 2016 agreement between Trump and the Carrier manufacturing company shows how easily corporations will be able constrain the administration. Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, had previously declared that they would transfer just over two thousand jobs from Indiana to Mexico. Three weeks after the election, Trump gloated that he had saved over half of those jobs.
Setting aside the fact that Carrier will still eliminate over a thousand jobs, Trump has good reason not to brag about this particular encounter: he got played.
Carrier’s executives offered a clear account of the deal, explaining that Trump had offered them preferential input in policymaking: “the incoming Trump-Pence administration has emphasized to us its commitment to support the business community and create an improved, more competitive US business climate,” meaning tax cuts and deregulation. As Indiana business professor Mohan Tatikonda put it, the agreement promised Carrier a “seat at the table.” Economist Michael Hicks called the negotiation “damned fine deal-making” on Carrier’s part: “The chance for Carrier (and their lawyers) to help craft a huge regulatory relief bill is worth every penny they might save [in exchange for] delaying the closure of this plant for a few years.”
The price tag for staying in Indiana “for a few years” will be miniscule relative to the company’s overall wealth. As the New York Times noted, the $65 million in projected savings from outsourcing would only have added “about 2 cents a share in earnings.” Howard Rubel, a senior Wall Street analyst, commented that it’s “an easy concession [to make] if the [president] listens to some of the company’s bigger concerns.” Moreover, if Carrier gets less than exactly what it wants, or should its retained workers refuse to accept a new round of givebacks, it can (re)eliminate those eight hundred jobs at any time.
Tellingly, the company concluded its statement by stressing that the deal had not altered its policy of outsourcing, even hinting that it may demand still more concessions in the future: “This agreement in no way diminishes our belief in the benefits of free trade and that the forces of globalization will continue to require solutions for the long-term competitiveness of the US and of American workers moving forward.”
The self-styled master of the deal had just surrendered to a classic capital strike. He negotiated a partial postponement of Carrier’s disinvestment and gained a public-relations victory, but only by promising the company what could become immensely profitable leverage over regulatory policy.
Other corporations immediately recognized this negotiation’s significance. They are now making their own demands in exchange for slowing down — or at least appearing to slow down — their offshoring plans.
In January, the Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler CEOs discussed their “wish list” with the new administration. Ford’s Mark Fields described “working together with the president and his administration on tax policies, on regulation, and on trade,” and Trump promised drastic tax cuts and “reductions in regulatory burdens” for the companies. Fuel emissions standards are one area of special concern to the automakers. Fields threatened that one million jobs “could be at risk if we’re not given some level of flexibility on that.”
As in the case of Carrier, the companies made minor concessions. Bloomberg notes that “GM and Fiat Chrysler have each pledged to invest $1 billion in domestic assembly,” but “both companies said those plans preceded Trump’s election, and all three [including Ford] will continue to produce vehicles in Mexico.” The companies’ main gift to Trump, the New York Times suggests, are “photo opportunities that allow him to claim he is engineering a renaissance in industrial America, even as the big picture remains unchanged.”
How Mass Protest Can Constrain Trump
Not all of Trump’s threats impinge on elites’ profits and power. For example, his appointment of energy industry representatives to his cabinet underlines his commitment to dramatically increase fossil fuels production. This has generated little corporate or governmental opposition. Obviously the energy sector is delighted, as are Wall Street bankers, many of whom invest heavily in dirty energy. Corporations outside these industries are not likely to object to more drilling and pipelines.
That is, they won’t naturally object — they must be compelled to do so. Mass resistance can alter these industries’ cost-benefit analyses, perhaps enough to shift their positions. For instance, targeting banks with boycotts could force a change in their lending priorities. Divestment campaigns targeting fossil fuels companies have already helped produce $5 trillion in divestment from fossil fuels. If this disinvestment can be accelerated, it could help spur the transition toward clean energy (which is already underway, but moving too slowly).
The struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) exemplifies this potential. The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies used civil disobedience to escalate the costs of construction, impose delays, and force the government to consider their claim that the pipeline violates treaty rights and environmental law. This prolonged battle eventually led the Army Corps of Engineers to pause construction and undertake a full evaluation of the pipeline’s potential environmental danger. This decision created a new delay and exacerbated two other institutional pressures that may still doom the project despite President Trump’s effort to resuscitate it.
First, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), DAPL’s lead developer, faces financing problems stemming from the crash in oil prices, its acquisition of excessive debt, and now the protest-induced delays. Last year both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rated its outlook “negative,” and the company had to agree to a “shotgun wedding” with Sunoco Logistics Partners in November to avoid a junk rating that would raise “its debt funding costs.” That same month, DNB Bank sold off its assets in the project as a result of boycotts. While other major banks have yet to follow suit, the possibility of further defections still exists, which more boycotts could intensify.
Second, the delays created uncertainty about the project’s viability among oil and gas companies. ETP’s business plan relied on signing advance contracts with companies that would utilize the completed pipeline. These contracts attracted lenders by assuring sufficient revenue to repay the loans.
Unfortunately for ETP, the contracts specified a January 1, 2017, start date. With the construction stalled, the oil companies must utilize expensive temporary providers. Further, ETP’s violation of the date-of-completion clause allows their clients to nullify the contracts. The oil companies can therefore either find a permanent substitute — killing the pipeline — or use alternate providers while renegotiating their deal with ETP.
This has resulted in a threefold crisis, any element of which could permanently cancel the project: the oil companies could permanently move to alternate vendors, the lenders could withdraw funding, or the Army Corps could deny the environmental waiver. Even as Trump does everything he can to accelerate the pipeline, its fate remains uncertain.
Trump’s Weak Spots
The Trump presidency will have many horrible impacts, but the administration will also have to operate under significant constraints. Disruptive mass movements can amplify them.
We already have tremendous potential for disruption. Public opinion polls reflect a deep distrust of big banks and corporations across party lines. Tens of millions of people despise Trump, and have been galvanized and regalvanized by each new expression of his savagery. The fact that Trump’s presidency will further harm working people means that some Trump voters will eventually turn against him.
The Left must organize disruptive mass movements that can identify and target the real power-holders — the corporations and government institutions that dominate policymaking regardless of who holds office. These elite forces can restrain Trump, so targeting them may be the best way to counter his most reactionary reforms. It may also be the best long-term way to build a radical and independent mass movement that can restructure our economy and government along democratic lines, thus vanquishing not only Trump but also the bankrupt liberalism that created a vacuum into which a demagogue could step.
Confronting Trumpism also requires an explicit emphasis on antiracist, antisexist, anti-imperialist politics that firmly differentiates the Left from populist white nationalism. The latter forces are poised to expand under Trump by exploiting white racism and support for authoritarian institutions like the police and military. As Trump’s policies hurt working people of all races, he will try to compensate by intensifying his scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, blacks, LGBT people, women, labor unions, the disabled, and the poor.
Inclusive, multiracial, working-class movements are not the norm in American history, but there are some precedents. The Left must build those movements, not only to defend against Trump’s most vicious assaults, but also to confront the structures, institutions, and ideologies that spawned him.
About the Authors:
Kevin Young will be starting as an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst in the fall.
Tarun Banerjee is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Michael Schwartz is distinguished teaching professor, emeritus at Stony Brook University
On Febuary 11th, 2017, hundreds gathered in Washington Square Park and marched at the #heretostay protest in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants and Mayor De Blasio’s continued use of Broken Windows policing at an Organization For a Free Society co-sponsored event.
Nadia an organizer with OFS spoke to the gathering, saying “Hello, my name is Nadia, I am member of the Organization for a Free Society , a participatory socialist cadre organization. I am a Moroccan, Arab, naturalized citizen,queer, radical social worker in solidarity with all undocumented people, immigrants,muslims, and indigenous peoples. I am here to stand against fascism, white nationalism, colonialism, borders, capitalism, prisons and deportations!
Naming ourselves a sanctuary city is not enough, we need the city to support people directly effected with the radical fight against white supremacy and capitalism. We all need to stand up and fight against injustice whenever we can, lift up the voices and take the lead from people who are undocumented, queer, trans, Muslim , women and people of color.
As a social worker I would be remiss if I didn’t talk to you all about self care. Because y’all … it has only been a few weeks and it already feels so looong. In order for us to be in the collective fight for the long haul we must do what we each can do in that moment. The movement needs each and everyone of you in many different roles. Take your time, spend time with your community, get some sleep, feed each other, do your rituals. as Assata said, we must love each other and protect each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
After the speeches, over a thousand took to the streets of the West Village and circled the NYPD’s 6th precinct, as the Village Voice reported:
“As the march attempted to cross the street at Hudson and Grove, the NYPD identified five leaders of the march who were not, to this reporter, breaking any laws. One officer tackled a man into a snowbank in the gutter, then held his face into the snow as his hands were zip-tied.”
The Center Will Not Hold : #DumpTrump on the road to revolution;
Dec. 22nd, 2016, 7-8pm @ Starr Bar, 214 Starr Street, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Rebel cities, pipeline shutdowns, and community self-defense will be necessary to resist the neo-fascist forces emboldened by the Trump presidency. However, to move beyond resistance, our movements will need a shared vision and program to revolutionize society from below. Join the Organization for a Free Society at the Starr Bar in BK to learn about the analysis, vision, and strategy of participatory socialism, and how such a perspective can guide our movements from the defense of people and planet, to achieving a democratic, egalitarian, decentralized, and ecological society.
Organization for a Free Society fights for participatory socialism, and helps build power and strategy in social movements, from occupy wall street, to low wage worker campaigns, to black lives matter.
The Starr Barr is a nightlife venue and home for the social justice community, supporting the MayDay Space in Bushwick. Dance, watch movies, listen to live music, and plan your next action with a drink in hand!
Since Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began sitting for the national anthem during the National Football League’s preseason, national anthem protests have surged into the national spotlight. Across the country, athletes from around the NFL and from othersports have joined, some taking knees and some raising fists — an homage to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 Black Power Olympic protest — yet all recognizably taking part in the same demonstration.
The protests have prompted a barrage of outrage, support and discussion. The story has been widely covered in the mainstream media, and is routinely discussed on sports channels and in social media. Whether or not Kaepernick planned it this way, he has kicked off a phenomenal episode of civil resistance against racism and police violence.
Organizers and activists should take note. It is easy to get trapped in the repertoires of tactics we are used to and comfortable with. This moment is a reminder of how sometimes the most powerful and effective tactics are right in front of us. Black Lives Matter and the larger racial justice movement it is a part of have been skilled in using disruptive maneuvers that are both creative and simple, such as highway blockades. Similarly, with a simple action, national anthem protests have pushed the envelope in new directions.
Civil resistance takes all kinds of shapes and forms, but at its best it does three related things: it disrupts the status quo, dramatizes a social injustice and forces people to choose a side. Better yet, it has replicable tactics that are easy to do and difficult to punish. The more clearly the action itself points to its meaning, and the more it raises pulses on all sides, the more powerful it is. Ideal tactics can be taken up by anyone without affiliation or directions. The national anthem protest does all of this. What’s more, in the context of a movement that is often maligned for its few violent episodes, it is an unequivocally nonviolent action.
The protest began with professional football players but was quickly taken up by athletes from other sports and at all levels. Now it has spread to spectators. In less than two months since Kaepernick first sat for the anthem, protesting the national anthem has become what The Atlantic called the “new normal.” This action has the potential to occupy areas of social life that have been insulated from politics and infuse them with a racial justice imperative.
Perhaps the most famous example of nonviolent direct action in the United States is the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. By simply sitting in places that had been marked “whites only,” black activists shocked and infuriated those who took Jim Crow segregation for granted. The response was extreme and violent, while images and stories of the protests and repression spread across the country (and world) like wildfire. With the growing tension, it became more and more difficult to not take a side, making it easier for those who supported racial justice to speak up and more difficult for those who supported segregation to hide their racism.
“Rules for Radicals” author and organizer Saul Alinksy once suggested — as a strategy against a department store with racist hiring policies — that thousands of black activists flood a flagship location, shop around all day, tie up staff with questions and clog checkout lines. The shopper-activists would each buy something small, charge it, and have it shipped to them, where they would later refuse delivery and demand a refund. This could be repeated indefinitely, and — while being completely legal — would ultimately wreck the store’s operations. Management would not be able to ignore the protest, but any attempt to attack it would backfire. In chess this kind of situation is known as zugzwang, or putting one’s opponent in a situation where any move they make worsens their position.
By sitting (and later kneeling) during the national anthem, at a time and in a place when people are expected to stand and face the flag in a sign of respect and devotion to the country, Kaepernick moved us toward such a moment on a grand scale. Through people’s reactions, the protest exposed the deep but otherwise hidden meanings lurking beneath the national symbols we often take for granted.
The anthem is not just a song to many people. What exactly this song means — particularly to many white people — is revealed in their response to a person of color not doing what he is supposed to do while it is playing. Sitting and kneeling aren’t particularly disrespectful postures (it is not as though he raised his middle finger for the anthem), but the simple public sign of quiet disobedience cuts deep. The tension between the action and the reactions forces public discussions, which expose the racism that often intersects with patriotism, and evoke the white supremacy that resides at the core of our national culture. In one simple move, the national anthem protest shines light on a virtual powder keg of racial and political realities.
Anywhere the national anthem is played, people are now able to politicize the space in a legible way. Arenas or locales could make rules mandating that people stand and place their hand on their heart, but this would only make them look desperate and intensify the drama around protesters. Alternatively, imagine the momentum (and the venomous reaction) it would generate if some venues stopped playing the national anthem altogether in order to prevent protest scenes.
The elegance of the national anthem protest lies in its simplicity. It takes courage to do it — for some, like individualhigh school students, extraordinary bravery — but nothing else (i.e. no resources, no training or minimal coordination). Right now, many players who do it are ridiculed or asked to explain why. If the protest builds, teammates who remain standing will have the gaze turned on them; they will have to answer for why they refuse to participate. The more spectators kneel or raise fists, the more uncomfortable it will get to proceed with business as usual. The symbolic power is massive and the possibilities for escalation are vast.
Kaepernick has reintroduced a brilliant tactic that hits hard and cannot be silenced. He started it (this time around) and thus his name is associated with it, but he does not own it, in the sense that anyone can take it up and make it theirs. The tactic has no specific demands attached to it; it is a raw, unambiguous condemnation of an intolerable status quo. With an action that is replicable in all kinds of arenas and so simple with all of its varieties that anyone can participate, the national anthem protests represent an escalation in the broad movement for black lives into a sacred space of sports, which had previously been a refuge for many from the political realities of this country.
On November 4th, 2016 at approximately 9:25 am 10 vehicles full of heavily armed police arrived at the gates of the Landless Workers Movement’s (MST) Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF) school in Guararema, São Paulo State, Brazil. The Police, called the “Armed Group for Repression, Robberies and Assaults of the Civil Police (GARRA)” without identifying themselves and without a warrant, menaced the guard booth and then jumped over the reception windows forcibly entering the peaceful school with assault weapons drawn. Once inside they pointed their weapons at people who peacefully approached them, shot at least two live rounds into the air and arrested and beat the singer Gue Oliveira and librarian Ronaldo Valencia, 64, who has Parkinson’s disease, for no reason. The same day police raided the homes of MST members in two other states, allegedly as part of police Operation Castra. The coordination of these attacks suggests that these operations are national in scope, and that this assault was carried out with direction from the federal level of the Brazilian security forces.
As former and current international students and professors of the ENFF school coming from nearly 40 countries, we denounce the actions of the Brazilian police force as a violent attack on human rights and political freedoms in Brazil.
We denounce this political violence against peaceful students at the ENFF international school and condemn the repression and criminalization of social movements such as the MST.
We know from the leaked transcript of the conversation between planning minister Romero Jucá and oil executive Sergio Machado, that the army has been monitoring the MST for over a year. We see these attacks as an acceleration of US imperial control over Brazilian politics with the government of Temer coordinating its grip on power with the US state department, as he was doing as early as 2006, when Temer first met with the US state department. Throughout this time the US State Department, and now the government of Temer, have been working to undermine the just demands of the Brazilian peasant movements, particularly the MST.
As former or current students of the ENFF who are leaders in social movements in our countries and communities, we further assert that the ENFF is a peaceful school for human rights, social justice, and the building of community-based social movements that has trained more than 15,000 students from nearly 60 countries. We view these attacks as Temer’s government attempt to forcibly impose his coup government on the people of Brazil. Moreover, we view these attacks on the MST as attacks on all of our communities globally.
Join us on Saturday, April 2, 2016, for Law and Anarchism. All events will take place in Hauser 104.
Please RSVP here so we know how many people to expect.
10:30-11:00 Welcome Coffee
Multi-sites of Power, Law, and the State
Deric Shannon, Professor of Sociology at Oxford College of Emory University, anarchist, author of many books, chapters, articles and reviews on social movements, culture, sexuality, and their intersection with radical politics, co-editor of multiple anarchist collections, and member of groups such as Queers without Borders.
Anarchism, Propaganda by the Deed, and Human Rights in Spain: Past and Present
Mark Bray, PhD Candidate in Modern European History at Rutgers University, author of Translating Anarchy, longtime activist, and one of the organizers of the Press Working Group of Occupy Wall Street.
Dilemmas of Theory and Practice: Spanish Anarchism, Mujeres Libres, and Strategies for Women’s Emancipation
Martha Ackelsberg, Professor of Government at Smith College, author of Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Womenand Resisting Citizenship: Feminist Essays on Politics, Community, and Democracy, and feminist scholar.
Panel: Anarchism in legal work
Moira Meltzer-Cohen, radical lawyer with a practice based in New York, founding member of Mutant Legal and Legal Info.
Nathan Sheard, legal activist with Mutant Legal.
Rebecca Chapman, public defender and Unbound alum.
Jason Lydon, anarchist Unitarian Universalist minister and founder of Black and Pink.
Alex Franco, attorney with Zavala Law Group in New York.
Carl Williams, attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The Continuing Relevance of Outlawry Today
Ashanti Alston, anarchist activist, former Black Panther and Prisoner of War.
Movement Lawyering for Anarchists
Carl Williams, attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, part of the legal defense and support team for Occupy Boston, and former criminal defense attorney.